New Czech Films at SIFF: Czech It Out!
For decades after the abrupt end of the Prague Spring in 1968, the shadow of the Soviets' oppressive regime hung heavy over Czech cinema and art. This weekend, a traveling national tour of contemporary Czech films comes to Seattle, and judging from their collective pulse, the Czechs have found room for slivers of light and hope in their nation's historically bleak mentality, even as the hangover of Communism persists. All five films are worth seeing.
The series opens with Walking Too Fast. This is the darkest of the bunch, a raw look at a secret policeman in the 1980s who covets the perceived freedom of the writer he's been surveilling—not to mention his sexy Slovakian girlfriend. Director Radim Špadcek shows that even the ugly oppressors are oppressed in their own ways, and the dimly lit film holds remarkable power.
Less grim is the family story of Long Live the Family, although the thumbnail description might indicate otherwise. Long Live the Family follows a corrupt banker taking his family on a camping trip as a cover for running from the law. The movie finds hilarity and uplift, in its own dark way.
The most rousing is Ondrej Trojan's wonderful Identity Card, a coming-of-age story of four Czech teens in the 1970s, as they sneak booze, grow their hair, and listen to Plastic People of the Universe. Playwright (and former Czech president) Václav Havel's Leaving and a slight but winning Slovakian documentary Matchmaking Mayor—which echoes Milos Forman's 1967 masterpiece The Firemen's Ball—round out the series.